Board approves Safe Routes to School trail alignment

Members of the Carlton County Board unanimously approved a plan Monday for Esko's new Safe Routes to School shared-use trail. After hearing three proposals for the trail's alignment from architect Brad Scott of LHB, commissioners agreed to the re...

Members of the Carlton County Board unanimously approved a plan Monday for Esko's new Safe Routes to School shared-use trail. After hearing three proposals for the trail's alignment from architect Brad Scott of LHB, commissioners agreed to the recommended route. The approximately three-quarter-mile trail will start at Maple Drive, cross the Midway River Bridge and culminate at the school.

Scott said the portion of the 10-foot-wide bituminous trail west of the Midway River will be fairly straightforward, since the higher speed zones in that area require that it be offset from the highway by at least 20-25 feet. Though he said there are some minor wetland impacts to be dealt with, the route will remain within the public right of way and not require any additional land acquisition.

The portion of the trail under debate was the segment located east of the Midway River leading into town, where Highway 61 transitions into a 30-mile-per-hour zone with curbs. Scott explained that two of the three possible options for the trail's alignment at that point would require navigating through high density infrastructure such as telephone poles and require costly right-of-way acquisition as well. Scott recommended that the optimal solution would be to remove the existing parking lane on the south side of Highway 61 and utilize that space for the trail. Thomson Township Supervisor Bill Girard voiced the board's support of this plan.

Esko's Safe Routes to School planning has been in the works since May 2010 when the township first submitted a grant application for funding. The grant was approved in 2011, and the county agreed to accept sponsorship for the program since it involves federal funds. A request for proposals for the trail design was sent out in early 2012, and the board selected LHB shortly thereafter. Surveying for the project got under way last spring, but the June flooding caused the project to be put on hold until November. In the meantime, LHB developed alignment proposals for the trail, and in January township and public meetings were held to present the various layouts for the project.

At the culmination of Monday's discussion at the county board meeting, commissioners voted to allow removal of the existing parking lane along the south side of Highway 61, and the architectural firm will now proceed with the final design of the trail.


In other business to come before the board, Carlton County Economic Development Director Pat Oman presented an update on various economic development loans made by the county that are in default. Oman said the Cozy Cafe in Carlton left the county with an outstanding loan balance of $57,823 after making $32,880 in payments on the original balance of $57,117. A sheriff's sale of the property took place on Dec. 27, 2012, and Frandsen Bank holds the certificate of sale, with a one-year redemption on the property. Oman said the cafe has closed its doors, and the Department of Revenue will be removing equipment and inventory in the near future. He added the former owner is currently working in the food service industry in Florida. Oman explained that since the county holds the second lien on the property, it will review the opportunity to file on the redemption prior to the December 2014 expiration date with an eye toward possible future development of the property. Oman said the county will continue to pursue recovery efforts with the former owner if possible.

Esko Liquors defaulted on a $100,000 economic development loan through the county, leaving an unpaid balance of $116,157. Oman said owner Ted Stocke declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Aug. 8, 2011. The county held a first position lien on the inventory and equipment of the business as well as a parcel of residential land located in Duluth. At the Dec. 11, 2012, meeting of the Carlton County Board, commissioners approved selling the liquor inventory to Cold One Liquor of Cloquet and the remaining equipment was removed and placed in storage. The shelving was purchased by the Carlton County maintenance department, and the computer equipment is being marketed to municipal liquor stores. The parcel of property in Duluth is currently being marketed for sale to the public.

"Right now it's about taking what things we can and converting them into cash," said Oman.

The third default loan involved the former Lambert's Truck and Auto, which left the county with an unpaid balance of $97,340 on the original loan of $100,000. Oman said the bankruptcy proceedings on the business have been completed, with the county holding the second position lien on the building, equipment and inventory. He said the redemption of the certificate of sheriff's sale in the amount of $280,000 expired on Dec. 26, 2012, and the building is currently bank-owned and being rented to a new tenant.

"The bankruptcy trustee will communicate any new funds that are discovered," explained Oman. "At this point, the county will charge off the loan, develop a final loan summary with lessons learned and opportunities to improve loan guidelines to mitigate future losses for this type of project."

Oman said he remains optimistic despite the loan defaults, pointing out they are the only three out of the 50 economic development loans (about four percent) secured through the county.

"That's actually quite low for a gap financer such as Carlton County," Oman said, adding that the county has thus far disbursed some $2.5 million in loans through its Economic Development Revolving Loan program and various United States Department of Agriculture federal loans.

The board officially brought to a close the 30-day comment period for an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) on a proposed Carlton County Business/Residential Park. The county concluded the EAW was in compliance with Minnesota rules, addressed all the issues at hand, demonstrated no potential for environmental impacts and as such, required no need for an Environmental Impact Statement. County Attorney Thom Pertler stated further that he was satisfied all of the public comments made during the allotted time period had been adequately addressed.


Finally, the board appointed Christopher Wagner of Perch Lake to represent District 1 on the County Planning Commission, to replace departing commission member Dave DeLovely.

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